Council approves program priortization

Nearly every seat in the Neatby Timlin Theatre was occupied Jan. 24 when University Council approved in principle TransformUS, the university’s program prioritization plan to trim between $20-25 million from the operating budget and to re-invest $5 million into academic programs and services.

TransformUS involves the creation of two task forces—one for academic programs and the other for support services and programs—that will set criteria for program and service evaluation across the entire university.

The motion approved by Council specifies that both task forces will include faculty and undergraduate and graduate students. In the original plan for the task forces, students were not excluded from participation, but did not have official seats.

U of S President Ilene Busch-Vishniac said the reason for this was that task force meetings could take four to six hours each week, an amount of time students may not be able to commit. She added that if students wanted to participate actively, then they would be able to do so.

U of S Students’ Union (USSU) President Jared Brown told Council that students will be affected by the prioritization process and should be involved. While concern about the time commitment is appreciated, “as adults we can make that choice on our own,” he said.

Brett Fairbairn, provost and vice-president academic, encouraged Council to approve the plan in principle, meaning that it “support the undertaking of program prioritization, not specific actions.” He said that program prioritization will allow the university to “strategically look at how we allocate and reallocate resources … and must reflect our goals, strategy and priorities.”

If Council does not approve TransformUS, he continued, alternatives could include across-the-board cuts, and hiring freezes such as are occurring at other universities in Canada. TransformUS “is the most transparent and inclusive measure,” Fairbairn said, adding he did not want “issues of how we are doing this getting in the way of doing this.”

Busch-Vishniac, referring to membership on the two task forces, said that no one on the academic task force would be above department head level.

A strong majority of Council passed the motion after it was amended to include student representatives on the task forces.

Nominations to the task forces will be open until Feb. 13 at 12 pm. Membership on the Academic Program Transformation Task Force is open to faculty and both graduate and undergraduate students. Membership on the Support Service Transformation Task Force is open to faculty, staff as well as graduate and undergraduate students. Senior leadership positions will not be appointed to the task forces and self-nominations will be accepted. An online nomination form can be found at usask.ca/finances

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